Book Review: "Licking the Spoon," by Candace Walsh
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Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family and Identity had been on my radar for quite some time before I read my friend Jill's review of it over at AfterEllen. Her endorsement of the book moved it to the top of my holiday-reading list. Let me, too, endorse it as a fun, light yet thoughtful read. And it certainly qualifies as a queer memoir unlike others; it has no political agenda, no vendetta. Rather, Candace's memoir is gratuitous in sensation—feeling, tasting, and thinking about food, sex, drugs, the body and the mind's awareness of the body.
The book does function as a bildungsroman of sorts—a young girl's difficult upbringing outside New York City, her challenge to make her way through lousy relationships with men and equally lousy writing/editing jobs in the City, and her quest to feel fulfilled throughout her life. In order to feel fulfilled Candace tries the usual sex, drugs, relationships, and the most potent: food. Her connection to food, presented to readers early in the book in anecdotes about how recipes traveled generations through her family to her own recipe book, is, like it is for most women, one of fraught emotions. Candace loves and hates food; she simultaneously loves and loathes how it makes her feel, how it masks her traumatic feelings and memories, and how it connects her to other individuals (read on as she woos both men and women with her cooking).
I adored this book, even though at times the protagonist is insufferable—this, if anything, bespeaks the "realness," or sincerity, of the book. Walsh does not glorify her positionality as the enlightened "voice" of the text, rather she quite blatantly reveals her foibles and her questionable ethics (like throwing household items at her husband) without blinking or overt explanation.
Her eating disorder—in the form of bulimia from an early age onward—is most interestingly manifested in the subtle form of cooking for others. Feeding others—and feeding them overly rich, fatty foods, especially sweets—is how people with eating disorders try to manage themselves and their disorder; it also has a malicious angle of trying to make others fat in order to magnify their thinness. Look at how I can restrain myself from eating this, and you can't! I win! I can attest to this as someone who suffered with an eating disorder, as well as looking to a handful of my friends who do the same—friends who are rail-thin, who are always baking and "gifting" people with these baked goods. It's indulgence without indulging.
After a failed marriage and some serious transference onto her female therapist, Candace decides to give the ladies a go in her mid-thirties...with 2 kids, one on each hip. The final pages describe how Candace negotiates the lesbian dating scene in and around Santa Fe as a recent lesbian-convert. Read the book for yourself to see how things turn out for her, both romantically and spiritually, as she continues her quest for self-fulfillment, with and without food.